Keeley Bruner is the mother of two daughters and a devoted, progressive member of the Disciples of Christ Church. In this three-part series, she writes of the challenge of handing on her faith in ways that mirror the best of her own religious upbringing while reflecting the ways in which her faith has matured and widened in adulthood.
For us, a large part of this is through attendance at our church. It is a Disciples of Christ congregation, and is on the small side so that we have gotten to know nearly everyone in it on a pretty familiar level. It is open and affirming, so that when we tell our children that God loves everyone, they can connect this with all the people they see, not just in our church but everywhere. When they see families of different gender or racial make-ups than our own, they can still recognize these people as sisters and brothers, as children of God. This is very important to us, and unfortunately given the cultural landscape means that there are not as many children at our church with whom they can fellowship. This is a risk we decided to take, a concession we decided to make to attend a church we can fully support in its theology and mission. Our church also engages regularly in care for the poor, both on a bi-monthly basis providing dinner for Tempe’s homeless program (I-HELP) and also, because I work in the church office, every workday as I give bag lunches to homeless or food-insecure neighbors who come in. My younger daughter comes to work with me, and although she sleeps a significant part of my shift (thankfully), she will often favor patrons with a smile, and my older daughter has been participating in both I-HELP and preparing and distributing lunch bags for a couple years now. Again, this was a decision we made with our children in mind, so that when they see people asking for money on the corner, they will know that those folks, too, are children of God and that we love them with our words and our deeds.
Apart from church, we have a few devotional practices as part of our family culture. When we lived in Cambridge, MA I worked at a store called Ten Thousand Villages, where I bought a handmade pottery bowl with the word “blessing” etched on it in different languages. We have used that bowl for many practices over the years, but the way we currently use it is this: I have written spiritual practices on seven small pieces of paper, one of which my older daughter chooses each day. Because she is four, she doesn’t know they are spiritual practices; I just say “Time to pick a paper!” and hold out the bowl. And, being four, she is, generally, happy to oblige. The seven practices are:
- Call a far-away friend or family member,
- Say a prayer for a loved one,
- Sing a song of praise to God,
- What are five things we are grateful for?
- Post a funny or sweet picture on our family Facebook group,
- Send a kind letter to someone, and
- Send an encouraging text message.
As you can probably guess, these are designed to accomplish a couple of purposes; they also keep friends and family in the forefront of our minds and give us opportunities to practice kindness in different ways. In addition to choosing and doing one of these, we also have two children’s books, one of Bible stories, and one of Psalms, one of which we will read a story from depending on how much time we have. We also have a monthly verse we read each day, as well as a list of birthdays so we can celebrate with loved ones on their special days. We do blessings before meals, which at this point generally consists of my older daughter singing “Lord Jesus, thank you for this day, and thank you for food. Amen.” Sometimes it’s chirpy and fast, sometimes it’s slow and chant-like, and sometimes it’s to the tune of songs from Moana or Frozen. But she does it, and she knows it’s important. We also do informal bedtime prayers, remembering our day and looking forward to the next.
Another thing I’ve realized is that, even without these sorts of practices, if my faith is important to me, my children will know and interact with that. It has definitely become a two-way street in terms of conversations we have, particularly as our 4-year old has reached the stage of endless question-asking. Any simple inquiry about the world--nature, people, animals, for example--can be an occasion for us to talk about God and wonder together. It has been especially rewarding to see her perspective on things and hear her ideas about how the world works, and I know this will only increase as she gets older as long as the lines of communication are left open. I look forward to pondering my own faith more in light of her observations and curiosities.
So those are ways I have found to embed faith into the culture of our family, and at 4 years old and 18 months old, they seem to be sufficient. But as they grow, and as my husband and I grow, I know we will continue to trust the Spirit to lead us in being mindful and receptive to God and to be willing to do the work of Christ.
A few of our favorite, most-used books:
Psalms for Young Children, Marie-Hélène Delval
Whoever You Are, Mem Fox
The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones
Children of God Storybook Bible, Desmond Tutu
God’s Dream, Desmond Tutu